Transformation to smart asset management
22 May 2020
The goal of a playing leading role in the field of lifecycle management for telecom networks in 2025 has led to a major change process taking place at Allinq. The rollout of a new ERP system is providing the required reliability and predictability for clients, streamlines our operations and lays the foundation for further digital development. CIO René Coppoolse talked to us about the vision, the pitfalls and the next steps of the programme that started five years ago.
As a provider of infrastructure management, Allinq distinguishes three main activities: projects, production and services. “The projects are large and often one-off assignments, for example the decommissioning of an old telephone exchange. Production work includes things like laying fibre and VDSL infrastructure for large businesses and telecom companies. Our Services are all about work on our clients’ assets.” explains CIO René Coppoolse.
These three key areas are largely supported by the new combined IFS ERP asset management system, complemented by a few task-specific solutions. “This combined package was rolled out within budget and practically within the set time. The systems allows for new digital initiatives that help Allinq to stand out even more in the market.”
The Allinq CIO – who joined the company in 2016 – explains that renewing the old Baan software was sorely needed in order to achieve the changing company goals. “In 2025 we want to be market leader in the Benelux and Germany in the field of lifecycle management of telecom networks. In order to achieve this goal, a blueprint covering business, culture, management and IT was drawn up together with Anderson MacGyver a few years ago. The next step was to determine what was needed to realise that ambition.”
Customer intimacy proved to be an important value. As key coordinator of an assignment, Allinq wants to unburden clients and provide both reliability and predictability. Allinq acts as a pro-active partner for a client, taking responsibility for the total lifecycle of the client’s physical assets. This includes not only the development and maintenance of networks, but also their decommissioning. We offer one-stop shopping with 24/7 support.
Coppoolse says: “To improve operational excellence, we had to become a process-driven organisation with a uniform way of working. This includes the coordination of the entire chain and a greater degree of synergy across all activities. That goal requires information management, and that’s why a CIO was needed to complement the existing Allinq management team. In company’s new approach, IT became an important factor for international innovation and the rapid introduction of new product-market combinations.
That meant a new system was needed, and an integrated total solution was chosen: ERP complemented with asset management. “The advantages are a single user interface, a limited number of connections to other systems, central reporting based on a single database and an integrated data model. The disadvantage is that everyting is inter-related so you may see longer release times than you would in a combined landscape of IT systems.”
The other way around
René Coppoolse explains the unusual approach taken for the implementation of the combined IFS system. “Normally you start by looking at the core processes and then you decide how to organise and support them. Only then do you start implementing. We did things the other way around. Allinq was a collection of about eighty project organisations, but we wanted to become a process-driven organisation. We had the impression that we weren’t unique in that respect, so we were open to best practices suggested by suppliers. So we started moulding the process to fit the possiblities of the system.”
“We started by the book. The business in the lead, with the right decision making process, sound risk analyses, a good contract, a good kick-off, etc. In addition to the abovementioned blueprint, we also determined performance indicators. A ‘proof of concept’ was used to find out if the IFS system we had selected could do everything we wanted without too much customisation. We also made an estimate of the planning and the required budget. The next step was the implementation with a project team and project deliverables.”
Despite our thorough preparations, a few obstacles arose. IFS turned out to have multiple best practices. “That was an issue both for the implementation and the rollout. Activating both the ERP and the linked module for field services turned out to be too big a step for many of our staff. Acceptation within Allinq was slow, which made sense, because a lot was changing for our staff. In hindsight, it would have been better to decide to start with only the ERP part, and to work from the top to emphasise the urgency and to create support among middle management and the rest of the organisation.
“In the end, we in the IT department had our work cut out. We ourselves gave training rather than the key users as planned. At IT, we also made posters showing our way of working. The IT department is now very aware of how certain processes work.” The IFS-ERP is now up and running, together with the asset management module. “Within budget and several months later than planned. A few specific work packages still need to be added for the business, but that is within the business’ own timeframe.”
René Coppoolse confirms that the central system – which runs as a managed service in the cloud – is a somewhat traditional choice. Many companies are actually moving away from this type of system and opting for modularity and the related speed and flexibility. “The alternative was different systems for different kinds of users.” However, because Allinq has little to no decentralised IT expertise and the business could not take ownership, this was not an option. Now everyone is included in a total approach. “Incidentally, we did activate the ERP system in phases: first a few departments, then in all of the Netherlands and then in Germany. That is also a growth path”, says the CIO.
Allinq now has an IT organisation that works on the basis of a supply and demand model, and in which architecture, security and business consultancy are separate entities beside the applications and infrastructure departments. “If a high level of flexibility is required and possible, for example in robotic process automation (RPA), customer interfaces and portals, we work in scrum teams.”
In the long term, René Coppoolse sees the IT department developing into a governance organisation that creates the right conditions and framework, thinks about architecture and data management, and ensures that things are implemented centrally. “I expect a lot more essential IT knowledge to develop within the business, so that they can choose their own tools in addition to the ERP system. That also includes functional management and budget responsibility.”
“At the moment, the business is already taking on more IT responsibility as product owner for RPA. We have chosen assigned RPA, which means that an employee decides which tasks are done by the robot and when. The alternative is ‘unassigned’, which means a central orchestrator controls the robots. In the past year we have already activated thirty robots and we see RPA in combination with process mining as our growth path to AI, whereby the software supports the employee.
Allinq has now achieved the required uniformity in reporting, organisation, process and ways of working. “We have become much more predictable and transparent for our clients. As a management partner for owners of telecom infrastructure, we not only manage our own staff based on results, but also the subcontractors working on our projects. We work according to the pre-defined priorities.”
The next step is a more digital way of working and generating business, up to and including data-driven products and services. “Based on digital technologies, we are moving more and more towards ‘smart asset management’, whereby precision scanning gives us insight into the status and operation of telecom masts and other customer assets. Within the production process, these ‘digital twins’ help determine material quantities, and within the asset management process, they help determine the required changes. We can repeat the scan on a regular basis to check if maintenance is needed. We can also carry out drone inspections.”
IoT data lakes
René Coppoolse is also working on the use of IoT data lakes in order to combine all the information that Allinq has in house. “For example to show the effect of the temperature on the assets we are commissioned to maintain, and whether we can anticipate activities. For specific applications, we link some data to external data sources, such as Google Maps.
An automatic planning tool links the right employees to the assets and ensures the shortest possible travel time. “Our engineers receive all the digital information about the asset on their mobile device. We also use the HoloLens for augmented reality when carrying out our work. In the future, external engineers will also be managed from IFS using an engineer portal developed together with students from Windesheim college.”
It’s clear that by implementing a new ERP system, Allinq has achieved a healthy operational mode and is ready for further digital development. “We are ready to introduce new product-market combinations that will strengthen our position in the field of lifecycle management of telecom assets.”